Coloni

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Last updated: 26-April-2004


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• "The Wolf" starts Coloni in F3 and F3000
As even a cursory glance through this site would reveal, the late 1980s and early 1990s in Formula One saw a hotbed of low-budget privateer teams, full of enthusiasm and starry-eyed ambition, with desperate young drivers on board keen to make their mark. They ranged from the mildly promising, like Onyx and AGS, to the downright disastrous, such as Life and EuroBrun. But as Grand Prix racing became ever more professional, the one constant was that they all eventually fell by the wayside - with the one notable exception of Minardi.

More often than not it was a combination of spiralling costs and lack of money rather than any organisational haphazardness that led to these teams' downfall. As a result, it may not be such a surprise that some other remnants of that period are still going around in other categories. Zakspeed, for instance, is one of the leading teams in the German V8 Star silhouette series. And another of the late 80s battlers, Coloni, is still a competitive force in Formula 3000, just one step below F1. Indeed, Zsolt Baumgartner was a Coloni driver when he got his Jordan call-up at the Hungarian GP in 2003.

Enzo Coloni was a combative driver in his own right. He raced in Italian F3 from 1976 to 1982, driving Marches for the most part and coming 4th in 1981 before a switch to a Ralt saw him take the title in 1982. Nicknamed "The Wolf", he retired at the end of his victorious season to move into team management and to foster up and coming talent, and the wolf insignia became a trademark of his outfit's cars from then on. In 1983, he entered a Ralt for Ivan Capelli, who swept to the Italian F3 championship, and the following year he took Alessandro Santin to the same feat.

Meanwhile, also in 1984, Coloni had simultaneously gone into the European F3 championship, fielding a Martini MK45 for Capelli, and despite some mid-season controversy over airboxes Ivan won that too. In 1985, Alex Caffi drove for Coloni in Italian F3, finishing a narrow 2nd to Franco Forini, but Nicola Larini won the title the following year. 1986 also saw Coloni branch into F3000 for the first time, fielding one March for Gabriele Tarquini who came 10th overall, and a second car for Forini, Guido Dacco, Larini, Santin and the unheralded Nicola Tesini.

Coloni's first steps in F1: Nicola Larini at Monza in 1987. Coloni's first steps in F1: Nicola Larini at Monza in 1987.
• Tentative steps in 1987, preparing for full season in 1988
It was clear, then, that Coloni knew how to run a team effectively and extract the best from his customer cars. So it was logical that for 1987 he turned his eyes to Formula One, leaving F3000, working on a developmental F1 chassis, and only running Reynards for Rinaldo Capello and Antonio Tamburini in Italian F3. By the end of the year, the first Coloni F1 machine, the FC187, was ready, having been penned by former Dallara designer Roberto Ori. With Goodyear tyres and a seemingly obligatory Ford Cosworth DFZ engine prepared by Novamotor, Coloni was ready to enter the big time.

It was very much a toe-in-the-water exercise. Coloni had only entered his yellow machine, with sponsorship from Q8 oils, Himont, LPR, White Sun and Renzacci, for two races with Larini as the driver. They made their debut at the Italian GP at Monza, but it was an inauspicious first-up effort. On a track that favoured the turbos, the new car with its normally aspirated motor was out-gunned, recurring clutch problems not helping. Larini was 27th fastest, missing the grid by one place, but he was almost two seconds slower than Forini's Osella which was 26th, and over 12 seconds off the pole time.

Larini made the grid for Coloni's first start in Spain, pipping Caffi for the last spot by just under 0.1s, but after climbing to 22nd in the early laps the new car was the first retirement, with a rear suspension failure having only completed eight laps. With that, it was mission accomplished as far as 1987 was concerned, and now Coloni looked towards 1988 when they were set to compete in the entire championship. The somewhat bulky FC188 was commissioned from Ori, the Ford Cosworth engine remained, and with Larini off to Osella, Tarquini was brought in to replace him.

But by now the paddock was beginning to swell. Rial, Scuderia Italia (Dallara) had both joined the scene for 1988 with single-car efforts, while EuroBrun was also making their debut with two cars. With only those two entries to their name the previous year, Coloni was all but new as well. And so these five cars would be relegated to pre-qualifying on early Friday morning, the slowest to miss out on the rest of the weekend. But despite running on a shoestring budget, on paper their experience during 1987 and the organisational nous of Coloni himself should have held them in good stead.

Coloni's first race start came at Jerez in 1987. Coloni's first race start came at Jerez in 1987. A rear suspension failure after 8 laps also meant it was Coloni's first DNF.
• A season of two halves; Canada a highlight
And so it proved in the early stages of the new season. Sponsorship from LPR and Himont gave them some continuity in terms of finances, but more importantly, the FC188 was little different from the FC187, the most obvious differences being a steeper-sloping nosecone, higher cockpit, revised rear wing, extra bodywork around the rollbar, and the addition of an engine cover. This allowed the team to get off to a bright start, Tarquini easily getting through pre-qualifying and actually qualifying 25th, 17th, 24th and 21st and 26th in the first five races.

Tarquini often put the Coloni in good race positions thanks to some excellent starts - for example, from 17th on the grid at Imola he was up to 13th by the time they reached Tosa - but getting to the finish was another matter altogether. Various reliability problems meant the yellow machine didn't see the chequered flag until round four in Mexico, when Tarquini came home 14th, but 5 laps down. He then bettered that in Canada, finishing a brilliant 8th from last on the grid, only 2 laps adrift, in a result that would go down as Coloni's best in F1.

But it flattered to deceive. By now Tarquini was finding it ever more of an uphill battle to get the FC188 onto the grid. After the result in Canada, Gabriele racked up four consecutive failures to pre-qualify in Detroit, France, Britain and Germany. A brief return to form followed, Tarquini starting 22nd in Hungary and Belgium and finishing 13th at the Hungaroring, before news broke of an exciting coup. Coloni had managed to lure from fellow minnows AGS the well-regarded engineering trio of designer Christian Vanderpleyn, R&D specialist Michel Costa, and team manager Frederic Dhainaut.

This brought renewed hope, especially for 1989, but it did little to reverse the team's fortunes for the rest of 1988. The FC188 continued to struggle for speed, and after a DNQ in Italy, Tarquini's run to 11th in Portugal from last on the grid proved to be their last start for the year. Two more failures to pre-qualify followed in Spain and Japan, and Australia brought heartbreak when the Coloni missed the grid by only 0.045 of a second. But that drew the curtain on the team's first full season, a year which had yielded the unflattering stats of 8 starts, 4 finishes, 4 DNFs, 2 DNQs and 6 DNPQs.

Tarquini's first half of 1988 was promising, but he and the team struggled through the rest of the season. Gabriele Tarquini's first half of 1988 was promising, but he and the team struggled through the rest of the season.
• Monaco miracles by PHR in the C188B
The additional staff was not the only change going into 1989 though. While EuroBrun and the ill-fated FIRST team were to be one-car operations, the AGS, Osella and Coloni teams all decided to expand to two cars. Tarquini went to FIRST (and then AGS when FIRST never eventuated), but his loss was more than made up for when Coloni signed reigning F3000 champion and former Lotus and AGS driver Roberto Moreno. For the other car, they brought in Pierre-Henri Raphanel, who came with healthy backing thanks to French television station La Cinq.

Coloni stuck with the Cosworth V8 engine, but switched to Pirelli tyres upon the Italian company's return after two years on the sidelines. By virtue of Tarquini's 8th place in Canada the year before, Moreno's car would avoid pre-qualifying for the first half of the season, although Raphanel would have to go through the Friday morning jitters. But inherent problems remained. Vanderpleyn had been working on a new chassis, the C3, but this was not prepared in time for the start of the season. So the team had to start the year with revised versions of the 1988 car, dubbed the C188B.

Not unexpectedly, in a car that was very much getting long in the tooth, Moreno failed to qualify in the first two races in Brazil and San Marino, whilst Raphanel didn't even make it past pre-qualifying. But in the armco confines of Monaco, Moreno made it onto the grid in 25th place. Better still, Raphanel pulled off a miracle when he pre-qualified 3rd quickest and then actually qualified 18th, ahead of the likes of Nelson Piquet and Rene Arnoux. This would be the only occasion when there would be two Colonis on the grid of a Grand Prix, but after running promisingly, both C188Bs retired prematurely with gearbox problems.

By now the team was doing its utmost to get the C3 ready. Skeleton efforts in both Mexico and Phoenix saw Raphanel pre-qualify and Moreno qualify for neither, but the new machine finally appeared in Montreal. It was a stylish creation, resplendent in a new colour scheme, and featuring an airbox instead of just a rollbar. But the car wasn't quick out of the box. Raphanel failed to pre-qualify with it, although Moreno managed to drag it onto the grid, and despite losing a wheel at one stage the Brazilian gave the car some useful mileage before it was sidelined with more gearbox woes towards the end.

Raphanel at Monaco: running ahead of former-World Champion Nelson Piquet's Lotus. Pierre-Henri Raphanel doing the impossible: placing the Coloni well up the grid and running ahead of former-World Champion Nelson Piquet's Lotus during the race.
• Anderson make a difference
Because the car was so late, they were desperately behind on development, and after another failure to get onto the grid in France, Moreno qualified 23rd at Silverstone only for the gearbox to pack it in again after only three laps. This string of non-finishes and non-qualifications now consigned Roberto to pre-qualifying as well, and in Germany neither made it past Friday morning, nor did one of the C3 chassis, Raphanel having destroyed it in a massive accident. Things went from bad to worse when Vanderpleyn left, less than a year after joining the team.

Another double-DNPQ in Hungary, and Costa was off as well, and with him Raphanel, who took his La Cinq sponsorship to Rial. The Frenchman was replaced by Enrico Bertaggia, who proved conspicuously out of his depth, and never managed to get off the bottom of the pile in pre-qualifying in the remaining races. Two more fruitless outings for Moreno in Belgium and Italy, where a lack of straight-line speed proved an insurmountable disadvantage, saw Coloni calling for the services of freelance engineer Gary Anderson, who had helped Enzo win the F3000 title the year before.

In hindsight, of course, we now know that Anderson went on to design the Jordans that raced from 1991 to 1998, including the brilliant 191 and 197 models, and also the Jaguar R1 before returning to Jordan, but he had a small success with Coloni too. A little testing had already improved the C3, but wind-tunnel work gave birth to a new nosecone and front wing assembly, and in Moreno's hands around Estoril the car flew. He set the 11th fastest time in Friday qualifying, which eventually left him 15th on the grid, Coloni's highest ever grid placing.

However, on the Saturday, a violent collision with Eddie Cheever's Arrows destroyed the nose, and without it Moreno struggled in the race and retired after only 11 laps with electrical problems causing a misfire. A replacement nose wasn't ready in time for Spain, but when it was ready in Japan the car didn't have enough straight-line speed, and Moreno made it three DNPQs in a row in Australia. A year that had started with such high hopes and with the team so well-staffed had ended with just two drivers, 6 mechanics and a team manager present, and only five starts out of 32 for the year.

Moreno couldn't capitalise on his brilliant qualifying effort at Estoril, Coloni's best-ever. A big crash at Estoril with Eddie Cheever meant Moreno couldn't capitalise on his brilliant qualifying effort, Coloni's best-ever.
• Subaru arrive in F1! But all doesn't go to plan...
It was a sobering reminder of just how tough F1 could be. But, plugging on into 1990, once again there seemed reason for optimism. Coloni was getting a multi-cylinder works engine! Japanese manufacturer Subaru was interested in following Honda and Yamaha into F1 as engine suppliers, and in 1989 had subcontracted Italian racing engine company Motori Moderni, run by Carlo Chiti, to build a 180-degree, boxer flat-12, 60-valve unit. Although the engine was originally intended for Minardi, Subaru eventually joined forces with Coloni, buying a half-share of the team.

Subaru's president Yoshio Takaoka became the official head of the team, although Enzo Coloni remained his vice, and in truth it was still he and new team and business manager Alvise Morin who held the reins. Paul Burgess, formerly of Onyx, was hired as chief engineer, and the team increased it staff levels once more. Onyx and Rial refugee Bertrand Gachot was signed to drive as the team pared back to one car and returned to Goodyear tyres. A revision of the C3, dubbed the C3B, was painted in the red, white and green of Fuji, Subaru's parent company.

But from the beginning, the writing was on the wall. Boxer flat-12 engines had been used by Ferrari during their glory years in the mid-70s, and after that by Alfa Romeo in 1979-80. With a low centre of gravity, Chiti believed the engine would have aerodynamic advantages. Called the '1235', it was given its first shakedown in a revised Minardi at Misano in May 1989. Further testing in the dynamometer had registered an output of 417kW, and Chiti's target was 447kW, or 600bhp. By anyone's standards, this was a somewhat modest figure.

Worse still, the engine, to be driven through a Minardi gearbox, weighed in at 159kg. Although this was only 10 kilograms more than the Ford Cosworth V8, when combined with all its accessories including its electronic engine management system courtesy of Magneti Marelli, the whole assembly was some 112kg overweight. Not only did this create a tremendous weight disadvantage, it made for a weight distribution nightmare, as all the additional bulk was towards the rear end. And, needless to say, it made the handling of the C3B anything but friendly.

Carlo Chiti with his pride and joy - the 180-degree, boxer flat-12, 60-valve Subaru engine. Carlo Chiti with his pride and joy - the 180-degree, boxer flat-12, 60-valve Subaru engine.
• The Subaru-Coloni marriage ends in divorce
The C3B was actually quite a different chassis to the C3, the changes mainly to accommodate the large motor. The airbox had been removed, replaced by two large air intake ducts on both side pods. Compared to the C3, the side pods were substantially higher, and reached further forward. But the car was barely ready in time for the first round of the 1990 season in Phoenix. The team only assembled the machine for a few laps' shakedown at the nearby Firebird track on the Thursday before pre-qualifying was due to begin the next morning.

To no-one's surprise, the car could not complete single lap at Phoenix when a gear-change linkage in the cockpit broke, and was then a mammoth ten seconds off the pace in Brazil. It became apparent that the Coloni-Subaru package was never going to be remotely near the pre-qualifying pace, and indeed Gachot never managed to make it past Friday morning in the first half of the year, although the unpredictable handling led to some hairy moments, notably in Montreal where Bertrand had a wild spin into the gravel. It did not take long for this Italian-Japanese relationship to become strained.

Dissension was rife in the ranks. After Brazil, Morin had already left, almost as soon as he had arrived, having not seen eye to eye with Enzo Coloni himself. Rumours in the paddock suggested that Coloni was unwilling to pay his staff, or put the additional money that came from the Subaru collaboration into developing the car and engine. Work on the B12 engine was at a standstill. But obviously the bigger problem was over who really was in charge of the team, whether Coloni or Subaru had the right to call the shots. Clearly dissatisfied, Subaru decided to buy out the team.

Allegedly Coloni had signed the team over to Subaru, but refused to hand the team over. By the Canadian GP he was in Japan trying to thrash out a deal, with Vanderpleyn having been enticed back to look after the team in his absence. By now Burgess was also gone, apparently at Coloni's request. But then, in an about-face, Subaru decided to pull the plug altogether, announcing at the French GP that it would withdraw after the next event at Silverstone. From Germany onwards, Coloni would be back in full control, and would revert to a Ford DFR engine prepared by Langford and Peck.

Gachot in the kitty-litter at Montreal. The Subaru-Coloni relationship was heading the same way. Bertrand Gachot takes a trip into the kitty-litter at Montreal. The Subaru-Coloni relationship was heading the same way.
• Not a single race start throughout 1990
In the meantime, the team had come up with another version of the C3, the C3C, and had tested it with the Subaru engine, but upon the Japanese company's withdrawal, in Germany Coloni appeared with a sponsorless all-yellow C3C with the Ford DFR in the back. The C3C was more like the original C3 than the C3B had been, with low side-pods and an airbox once again, but it did little to improve their immediate fortunes. As luck would have it, Gachot damaged the car in a nasty accident at Hockenheim and failed to pre-qualify there, and he didn't make the Friday morning cut in Hungary either.

But in truth, the C3C Cosworth was a definite improvement over the C3B Subaru, and though still a difficult car, Gachot was extracting the most from it. Belgium saw a further aerodynamic revision of the C3C, with an angular, flat-topped engine cover introduced, and it coincided with the withdrawal of the Monteverdi Onyx team, which had been an automatic entry into main qualifying. This allowed the hapless Ligiers to escape from pre-qualifying, but what it also meant was that Gachot only had to beat three other drivers to make it through into qualifying for the first time all year.

With the pathetic Life sure to be bottom of the barrel, and with the two EuroBruns increasingly uncompetitive, Gachot safely got through into the rest of Friday and Saturday. But in qualifying proper, as a reality check the Coloni was slowest out of the thirty remaining cars and still didn't make the grid. This pattern of making it through pre-qualifying but being the last in qualifying continued in Italy, Portugal and Spain. However, EuroBrun and Life decided not to make the trip to the final two fly-away races in Japan and Australia (where Coloni celebrated its 50th GP), so pre-qualifying was unnecessary and Gachot was straight into the top 30.

The Coloni remained the least swift machine, though, and along with Life suffered the dubious distinction of being the only teams without a single race start throughout 1990. Undaunted, the team plugged on into 1991. In the autumn of 1990 they had tested Pedro Chaves, and for 1991 they signed the young Portuguese driver, who brought with him some sponsorship from Mateus wines. The Coloni C4, an evolution of the C3C penned by the team's engineers in conjunction with the University of Perugia, was designed and built.

Bertrand struts his stuff at Monza, where he made it through pre-qualifying, only to DNQ. he rest of 1990 didn't yeild much for Gachot or Coloni. Here Bertrand struts his stuff at Monza, where he made it through pre-qualifying only to DNQ.
• Pedro calls it quits; so does Enzo Coloni
The C4 still had the flat-top engine cover that had been a feature of the final C3C, but with a narrower air intake above the driver's head. The team continued to use the Ford Cosworth V8 and Goodyear tyres, and the car was given a drab blue, grey and white colour scheme. Although Chaves did bring some money, it clearly was not a huge amount, going by the size of the Mateus signage or, more to the point, the amount of free advertising space left on the car. As always, money (or the lack of it) would prove to be a major stumbling block as more than ever Coloni struggled simply for survival.

With Jordan and the new Lambo team joining the fray, pre-qualifying was required once again. At first, Chaves was able to keep up with the Fondmetal and the Lambos on Friday mornings, although he was still some way off making the cut. However it was not long before the sight of the Coloni at the bottom of the pre-qualifying timesheets, around a second slower than his nearest rival, became a common occurrence. After his home event in Portugal, when Chaves was over five seconds slower than anyone else, the fed up driver left the team.

Chaves explained that the team had not so much as tested all year. He had not been obliged to bring any money to the team; indeed, Coloni was meant to be paying him US$100,000, but had only delivered one-tenth of that. Not surprising considering the parlous financial state of the team. So for the last two races, Coloni signed Japanese newcomer Naoki Hattori, who brought with him Jaccs sponsorship and various other Japanese scripting with which to emblazon the car. But with limited experience he too came nowhere near extending his work beyond Friday mornings at Suzuka or Adelaide.

Before that, however, at the Spanish GP, Enzo Coloni had already announced that he was selling his team to shoe magnate Andrea Sassetti, who would go into infamy with his Andrea Moda effort in 1992. Coloni had had enough of trying to compete with a small team, no money and sub-standard machinery, which wasn't for a lack of enthusiasm. Not to mention a distinct lack of results: Coloni failed to make the grid in 83% of their entries! Coloni would look back at his time in F1 as having been a "fascinating but difficult exercise", but also "the only period in my life in which I was chin deep in water".

All smiles - Pedro Chaves and Coloni launching their 1991 season. All smiles - Pedro Chaves and Coloni launching their 1991 season. Countless failures to qualify later, Pedro left the team, and soon the team left F1.
• Continues to run promising drivers in F3 and F3000
Indeed, in 1991 Coloni had already been back in Italian F3, where his reputation as a driver and as a team boss had been made. Since then he has continued in that category, at first running his son Paolo Coloni, but later on a host of other promising drivers, including Esteban Tuero in 1996, the young Argentine who would race for Minardi in F1 in 1998. In 1998 Coloni also won the contract to build the cars for the new Open Fortuna championship in Spain, which has now grown to become the Nissan World Series, and for that he produced the Fortuna-Coloni CN1/98 designed by Enrique Scalabroni.

From 1997 onwards Coloni has also had a team in the International F3000 championship, fielding drivers such as Thomas Biagi, Fabrizio Gollin, Marc Goossens, Giorgio Pantano, Enrico Toccacelo as well as Ricardo Sperafico and Baumgartner in 2003. In 1999, Coloni also participated in the Italian F3000 series, running Dino Morelli with some success. But as the Coloni story showed, being able to run a well-organised team and breeding talented drivers is one thing, getting all the ingredients together for a successful F1 operation is another matter altogether.

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